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 VOL. 23, NO. 13JANUARY 30, 1998 


Columbia Joins Forces with Brazilians to Save Coastal Forest, Its Species

'Far More Threatened Than Rainforests'


Columbians and Brazilians at the Signing—From left: Don Melnick, director, CERC; Marcos Egydio Martins, Foundation for Forest Conservation and Production, São Paulo; Mary Pearl, associate director, CERC; Claudio Padua, Institute for Ecological Research; Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima, Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S.; Suzana M. Padua, IER; Columbia Vice Provost Michael Crow, and Fabio Feldman, secretary of the environment of the state of São Paulo.

Plans to identify and conserve the unique biological diversity of Brazil’s endangered coastal forest, “Mata Atlantica,” are being made through a joint effort of Columbia’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, the Brazilian state of São Paulo and a Brazilian environmental organization.

  The organizations signed a memo of understanding last month at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

  Though public attention in the United States to Brazilian environmental issues has focused on the Amazon rainforest, coastal forests are far more immediately threatened, scientists at the participating organizations said.

  Among the forest’s endangered species are the lion tamarins, a squirrel-sized monkey with long gold or black fur that has been the subject of intensive scientific study and conservation attention only in the last 30 years. The black-headed lion tamarin was classified as a separate species in 1990. The animals were at one time common along the Brazilian coast, but now can be found in only scattered patches of forest; some species of the primate number fewer than 1,000.

  Hundreds of such species are endemic to the forest, found nowhere else in the world. Seventeen of the forest’s 23 primate species are unique, according to an estimate from the University of Minas Gerais. Dozens of indigenous birds, amphibians and plants are also at risk.

  “Of all the environments in Brazil, the Mata Atlantica is by far the most endangered,” said Don J. Melnick, director of CERC and professor of anthropology and biological sciences. “Since this area harbors some of the rarest plants and animals in Brazil and has the highest priority for conservation, we want to lend collaborative assistance to comprehensively describe what is there and comprehensively develop plans for its conservation.”

  Destruction of the Mata Atlantica has occurred since European settlers arrived in the 16th century. But it has only recently become the focus of international conservation efforts. The principal goal of the three organizations is to develop conservation management plans for each endangered species and the habitat in which it lives, which in many cases will involve population surveys and genetic studies to accurately determine the distribution of diversity in the remaining forest patches.